LGBT trolley takes Atlantans on ‘living history’ tour

Pride Month is not only a time to celebrate the strides made by the LGBT community, but a time to honor the pioneers and places of its history.

This month, Touching Up Our Roots organized two trolley tours to ensure those things never get forgotten. The first tour on June 4 covered important spots in Downtown and Midtown Atlanta, as well as Little 5 Points. On June 17, tour participants will be treated to a venture down the Cheshire Bridge corridor.

The tours center on the two “epicenters” of Atlanta’s LGBT community, Hayward said.

“I don’t know exactly why, but 10th and Piedmont, that intersection is one of the first places where we could have openly LGBT businesses. It was kind of like the speakeasy, Prohibition era before that — people tell me what it was like before the ‘60s, it was like you wouldn’t necessarily know that was a bar,” said Dave Hayward, founder of Touching Up Our Roots. “The whole Cheshire Bridge corridor is one of the most important places in our history where we could have openly LGBT establishments. When we go on Cheshire Bridge, a lot of those places are still there. Some of them have morphed — there was a big gay bar, show palace called the Magic Garden; now that’s the Onyx, a straight male strip club.”

In between tour stops, participants were treated to nuggets of knowledge and LGBT history from the pioneers who lived it. Hayward was joined on June 4 by lesbian activist Maria Helena Dolan and fellow historian and advocate Gil Robison, who chimed in to share their experiences and favorite stories. During the first tour, attendees saw the new location of the AIDS Quilt, heard stories about the feminist lesbians’ role in organizing anti-discrimination rallies, visited LGBT-friendly churches and listened to tales of bars and people long gone, but always in our hearts.

“One of the things that is kind of sad and funny is that you drive around town and it’s like, ‘Well, that’s where that was. And it’s not there now, but take our word for it,’” Hayward said.

One of those was The Tower.

“The Tower is what people called the ‘Dyke Dungeon.’ It wasn’t wholesome-looking, but that’s one of the things that we liked,” Dolan said. “You could sit in a booth and talk and carry on, and I had sex in the bathroom once — it was someone I knew! — and you could dance in the back. It was very sad that it’s no longer there. It’s been bulldozed, because in Atlanta we can’t keep anything. We have to put big buildings up.”

A ‘culturally enriching’ experience

The tour brought together participants of all backgrounds, ages and genders. Most were from Atlanta, but Margaret Tatum, who is in town for the summer from Maryland, found out about the tours through a social media search, looking to get acquainted with the LGBT community in her temporary hometown.

Joshua Lorenz, president of the Metro Atlanta Association of Professionals, was also on the trolley.

“It’s going to be a very culturally enriching experience,” he said. “It’s good to know our history. It’s good to know where we came from. It’s good to know the challenges we’ve come through as a community.”

The idea for the tour arose last year.

“We’ve been doing history stuff over the years and I noticed last year, when we were doing ‘Our Founding Valentines,’ we were talking originally about giving credit to people who were doing things,” Hayward said.

A fellow activist suggested they do something similar to Creative Loafing’s history tour and scavenger hunt, so Touching Up Our Roots partnered with both Atlanta Pride and the LGBT Institute to make it happen. In 2016, the group only held one tour, and expanded the route to two for 2017.

“It’s our story brought to life. You’ve heard of it and here it is, in living color, three-dimensional,” Hayward said. “A lot of times you wouldn’t know that because so many of those places are there no longer, or have become something else entirely. For example, the strip bars on Cheshire Bridge that were once a LGBT strip place.”

Dolan, who rode the tour appropriately dressed in a Wonder Woman T-shirt, likened the political climate to DC Comics’ Bizarro World.

“People have been put into place to destroy what we’ve built up, and we can’t allow it,” she said.

Touching Up Our Pride Roots trolley tour
Saturday, June 17 at 1 p.m.
Departs from the Center for Civil and Human Rights, 100 Ivan Allen Jr. Boulevard, Atlanta
Parking: $10 at the World of Coke parking deck
Tickets: $15,